REVIEWED: LEMMY (LFF – DAY 12)
October 25, 2010 Leave a comment
Those first intimate glimpses of Motorhead’s frontman Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister in this eponymous doc – depicting him living in a squalid, messy flat, playing video games on a modestly-sized TV, and cooking potatoes for himself – suggest that Greg Oliver and Wes Orshoski’s intimate, fly-on-the-wall approach to their enigmatic subject will provide a warts-and-all examination of one of metal’s most popular and influential mainstays. That Lemmy too often wanes towards subject idolatory rather than probing reportage suggests that the two inexperienced filmmakers are in slack-jawed awe of scoring this gig with their hero, and it blinds their objective goal to get inside the mysterious frontman’s head.
It would be difficult not to extrapolate some points of interest out of a figure as galvanising as Lemmy, yet given the footage spans approximately two years of coverage, the results here consist largely of various famous talking heads – an extensive bunch admittedly, ranging from Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, Dave Grohl and Metallica to the more eclectic likes of New Order and Jarvis Cocker – heaping endless praise on his contributions to music, and his legendary stature as a champion drinker and drug user.
The film becomes more interesting when it dares to delve deeper into Lemmy’s own life, depicting him as a passionate relic of a time gone-by – often stubbornly so, still insisting that mono boxed-sets of Beatles recordings sound the best – and how, incredibly, he has not succumbed to the same ills as so many similar artists (his staying power is rivalled perhaps only by Keith Richards). The biggest surprise is, of course, when we are invited early on into Lemmy’s home and catch a glimpe of him away from the road; he lives in an unassuming apartment, has one son he enjoys a healthy relationship with, and he has another who he has never met. Sad though it might be, this is glossed over, itself perhaps a telling statement of Lemmy’s own feelings about it.
In its best moments, this doc does well to take the archetypally bedraggled, gruff-sounding Lemmy and utterly usurp every expectation we have about him, painting him as a far quirkier and less-imposing figure than is to be anticipated. An ardent history fanatic, and more controversially, a collector of Nazi memoribilia, Lemmy spares no detail in explaining (and in the latter case, trying to justify) his rather un-stagemanlike hobbies, and while we admire his honesty, the messy format causes it to at times seem more like a snappy travelogue of the man’s quirks rather than an intimate look at his psyche. A scene in which he rides atop a tank while wearing an immaculate Nazi uniform is unmistakably uncomfortable, however.
For all of its efforts to layer on the adversity – we get glimpses of impeded health and a fair condemnation of his own high-flying partier lifestyle – the film ultimately has a fixed hypothesis on its target, and sticks pretty firmly to upholding his image as an untouchable industry legend who can do little wrong. Dave Grohl is especially irksome in derisively comparing Keith Richards to Lemmy, slating his “living up the gunslinger lifestyle”. Meanwhile, a lengthy section is devoted to Lemmy’s surprise performance with Metallica at a show, and Oliver and Orshoski go undeniably overboard with their extensive coverage of a few songs; I love “Ace of Spades” as much as anyone else, but the awkward left-turn into concert film territory detracts from the quiet intimacy of the earlier scenes.
Ultimately, Lemmy is peppered with good moments, but comes across more as a lifestyle-type music doc; it notes his few downfalls, yet glosses over them in favour of his massive successes, and is a surprisingly shallow look at an undeniably fascinating subject. Lemmy’s final steadfast comment, that life’s too short, yet he has no regrets, could have been guessed from minute one; this doc is for the most part a reinforcement of the Lemmy we know, just with a few quirky enhancements.